It seems right now that everyone is talking about raw foods. There is even some very heated discussion going on about hamburgers being served medium rare instead of fully cooked.
I even heard the other day about someone wanting to make and eat Chicken Tartare. In case you don’t know what that is – take a raw chicken fillet, keep it really cold, soak it in lemon juice and place a raw egg on top – and serve. As a Food Safety person, every part of me is saying NO No No to that, but it is just an example of how people are stretching the normal bounds with food and experimenting
The belief by many is that raw foods are just better for you and taste better.
So are raw foods actually better for you?
It is true that by cooking many of the vitamins in foods are either destroyed or reduced and cooking does change the proteins in foods. So the actual make up of the food when cooked is different to when it is raw, whether that means they are better is a personal decision.
The longer int takes for a food to go from harvesting to use, the greater the loss of nutrients.
But cooked foods with fat content will taste richer and stronger than when they are not cooked. The flavour in fats is enhanced by cooking and so the overall flavour is improved.
Ok, so what about whether raw foods are actually safe to eat?
Cooking to at least 75C kills most bacteria, raw foods do not have this kill step and so are naturally higher in food poisoning bacteria.
Raw eggs are used to make many dishes, with homemade mayonnaise and aeoli being particular favourites right now. At Christmas, egg nog is made with raw egg.
Salads are full of potentially hazardous foods and so will have a higher bacterial load unless processed in such a way to reduce it.
Sushimi is essentially raw fish and other seafood.
None of these examples of raw foods have been heat treated, in fact that process would ruin the food. So to make sure they are raw foods which are safe to eat, we have to do extra things in our kitchens or businesses.
Keeping all contact surfaces clean and sanitised is just the first step. Making sure that hands are washed often and properly to reduce cross contamination is essential. Keeping all food temperatures very cold to slow bacterial growth is crucial. Washing the salad parts in clean chlorinated water will not necessarily remove all dirt and bacteria but it is much better to do it than not.Using acids like lemon juice or other natural preservatives (eg; sugar, honey or salt) will also help control the bacteria.
We should not be making mayonnaise or aeoli ourselves, buy it in from recognised suppliers, who have processes in place to ensure safety.
So are raw foods better for you?
Raw foods do have more nutrients but only if eaten very soon after harvesting but may not necessarily taste better because cooking does enhance fat flavours.
The real problem with raw foods is that they have not undergone a kill step (cooking) to reduce / eliminate the potential food poisoning bacteria. So if a person wants to eat raw foods, it is essential to do a few specific things to make sure that they are safe.